What makes a good boat rug? How long will they last? Is it worthwhile to pay a little more for better rugs? Here's my experience and what I consider.

Choosing Boat Rugs

Boat rugs. How do you go about choosing rugs for the boat?

Don’t worry, I’m not an interior designer so I’m not going to discuss designs. Well, not much.

But I can give a few things to look for . . . and a few others to stay away from.

The basic problem is that it’s almost impossible to find all the “desired features” in one rug, so you have to decide what’s most important to you.

  • Non-slip. This is really a must-have as slipping rugs = falls = injuries and broken bones. You can either get rubber-backed ones or use a rubber non-slip mat (or even some double-sided tape) under a “regular” rug. In either case, the rubber can stick to the floor below. Usually a bit of scrubbing with something like a Scrubr dish rag (read my article on thesebuy on Amazon) will remove it – for tape residue, WD40 works well but be sure to wash the area well afterwards. The varnish on my floors is far from perfect so that works for me, but those with perfect high-gloss floors may want to think twice before putting any rugs down since I don’t know of any way to keep rugs from moving without occasionally having something stick to the floor.
  • Washable. Any rug on a boat is going to have to be washed periodically. How often depends on your activities, but salt water, sand, galley spills and even drops of used motor oil will probably make their way onto your rugs. Washing is hard on rubber-backed rugs (the rubber will start to flake off), but you can help them out by washing in cool or warm water (not hot) and drying on low (or air-drying).
  • Stain-masking. Boat rugs just do pick up stains – wine, spaghetti sauce, motor oil, dog puke, we’ve had them all. I’ve learned that colorful irregular patterns don’t show stains nearly as much as solid colors or small repeating patterns. (This is my one design point.)
  • Long-lasting. Unfortunately, the rubber on rubber-backed rugs will start peeling off after anywhere from 6 to 18 months (shorter in tropical weather, hard use and/or lots of washes . . . compounded by original quality). Backing on other rugs will typically last 1 to 2 years, but generally these can’t be washed. When the flaking gets too bad, it will put a lot of gunk onto the floor and from there into the bilge and potentially even clog bilge pumps, so you need to watch for this and replace the rugs before there’s a problem. Rag rugs are good as they can be washed and there’s no rubber to start peeling off . . . but you have to have a separate non-slip pad, and rag rugs can be hard to find in sizes and shapes that work on boats and you can’t cut them to fit.
  • Size. On some boats – such as ours – this is the big one. There just aren’t a lot of rugs that will fit our boat. Depending on where you’re using them, sometimes you can get a larger rug and cut it to size IF the cut edges will be in an area without a lot of traffic (they’ll ravel otherwise). Cut edges also preclude washing a rug unless you can put a binding on the cut edge so it doesn’t fray in the wash. If you have an odd size, look at things such as bath mats too – that’s what I ended up using just inside Barefoot Gal’s door. It’s a long loop terry with a non-slip mat under it. Since that’s the “inside rug” that gets most of the dirt, it works well as it’s easy to shake out daily and washes beautifully.
  • Price. Prices range from a few dollars at the discount store to several hundred for truly luxury carpets custom fit for your boat. Our first cruising boat, Que Tal, came with a custom rug that previous owners had purchased. It was beautiful and I’m sure cost a mint, and in less than two years (about four years from when it was put on the boat) we had to replace it as the back was disintegrating and falling into the bilge. The bottom line is that spending a lot more on a rug does not mean it will last a lot longer, particularly in the tropics. The only rugs that I could find to fit Barefoot Gal were rubber-backed, so I assume I’ll have to replace them in a year and decided on a “max price” with that in mind.

Where to buy rugs? Over the years on our two boats, I’ve bought them just about everywhere. Last fall I got very cheap ones at Dollar General since we were working on the boat and I knew they’d be stained almost instantly (they were). They lasted 7 months and weren’t very pretty but they weren’t ugly either.

Needing to replace them when we moved back aboard after selling the house, I decided I wanted something a little higher quality and also a little better looking. Size became the key factor in deciding on what I wanted, with price the second consideration (I could find a number of rugs that were the right size but extremely expensive). There was also the fact that I wanted washable and a stain-hiding pattern. I finally some that I liked on Amazon (see here) but it took quite a bit of searching as the sizes were not indexed well.

Our boat upholstery is a solid beige with wood floors and accent pieces and lots of off-white gel coat. In other words, very neutral. I wanted something light, bright, and colorful. And since I figure I’ll have to get new rugs in a year or so, I didn’t worry too much about whether it was a design I’d love “forever.”

What makes a good boat rug? How long will they last? Is it worthwhile to pay a little more for better rugs? Here's my experience and what I consider.

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  • tami
    Posted at 10 August 2015 Reply

    Synthetics are best for any boat fabrics/fibres, including rugs. Synthetics are less prone to mold and mildew and generally will be able to take some bleach in the wash.

  • Shireen Beeson Reynolds
    Posted at 10 August 2015 Reply

    Using a liquid rug backing can work wonders as well, even adds new life to old ones…there are several on the market, some spay on, some paint on…here is one from Joannes…http://www.joann.com/fiber-lok-non-skid-rug-backing-pint/5334438.html

  • Patti Holma
    Posted at 10 August 2015 Reply

    We don’t have any rugs on our boat just a couple of water hogs by companionway and at the gates.

  • Deb Perfitt
    Posted at 10 August 2015 Reply

    We found that using yoga mats were our best solution for all the reasons mentioned in your article. They are colorful, non-skid, the right width, anti-bacterial, inexpensive, washable, and can be cut to any size. We have been cruising for 2 years and the last in Mexico for 6 months and they have been washed numerous times and still look great. We also use them for yoga (dual purpose). I usually buy them in thrift shops for a couple of dollars each.

    • Louise
      Posted at 11 August 2015 Reply

      That’s a great idea!

  • Debbie Silck
    Posted at 10 August 2015 Reply

    Thanks..great ideas

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 10 August 2015 Reply

    I placed an inexpensive very washable rug outside of the cabin to catch any dirt or moisture. We custom ordered the one in the cabin and lasted about 1 1/2 yrs of heavy use and is starting to look a little stained. I’ve “hidden” those stains with a smaller rug – if it gets really bad I’ll throw it in the wash – hopefully it’ll hold up.

  • Christine Warren
    Posted at 11 August 2015 Reply

    We bought this carpet online…cut it, then took it to a binder to bind the edges…we had gotten a quote of $2200.00 to put this carpet in our boat, but did it ourselves for 550.00!! We took the extra and had a nice strip bound for our nautical styled guest room….we are now looking at a little entry level sail boat and I plan on doing all the carpets I want for it myself with this teak carpet. The binder puts boat quality non skid on the back.

  • Pierre
    Posted at 11 August 2015 Reply

    Many carpet stores will bind the edges of a rug and if you go in with your specific dimensions you can have a custom rug for a reasonable price. A high end rug does last a lot longer than cheaper rugs and if you are paying for the binding it is worth the extra money for a better rug. Also, since most boaters only need a small piece of carpet to make a rug you may be able to get a top of the line end piece at a really good price…

  • Sally Larson
    Posted at 11 August 2015 Reply

    Being new to boating I bought a carpet for it’s looks, not functionality, so I learned very quickly it needed a non skid back. What I did was coat the back with a clear silicon caulking gun and then smoothed it out with a putty knife. I then cut a piece of that non skid webbing they sell for carpets and laid it over the silicon which acted like a glue. It worked just great, but again, I am new to boating so there may be a reason why this won’t work in the long run, but so far so good!

  • Puget Sound Cruiser
    Posted at 11 August 2015 Reply

    Yes, in our experience that rubber backing seems to start peeling off after even one washing. We gave up purchasing boat rugs because of that. Ever resourceful, however, my brother now scavenges low-pile carpet trimmings from behind flooring stores. After cutting them to the sizes he needs in the boat, he runs a thin bead of silicone caulking along the edges, similar to what Sally described. Prevents unraveling and aids in non-skid functionality. These have lasted about 3 seasons of heavy use before he has to replace them. Because they didn’t cost anything to begin with, he doesn’t feel regret when they need to be thrown out.
    In the Navy, we used a (cigarette) lighter to melt the edges of nylon and poly-whatever webbing, canvas, etc to keep it from unraveling. Was stupid enough one time when our family was out on the water to suggest this as a quick/temporary fix for a small section of carpet edge that had to be trimmed after light damage from a falling crab pot. Was so afraid of there being a flash – we didn’t REALLY know what the fiber content of that carpet piece was – that I insisted on holding the fire extinguisher on standby while the repair was being done! Next time I’ll be the volunteer who fetches the caulking gun from deep in the crawl compartment for “just a 6-inch job.”

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 11 August 2015 Reply

      I manage to get a dozen or more washings by using cool water and the dryer on low or air. But once they start peeling, they just don’t stop . . .

  • Clay Greene
    Posted at 13 August 2015 Reply

    We really like Stroud braided rugs. They have a very large number of patterns and sizes so it makes it easy to customize to particular taste and space needs. We have four on our boat. They are synthetic and washable. Dog hair vacuums up well from them, which is a big issue for us. The weave is tight so the hair does not get embedded very easily.

    We bought their rug pads and they work great – no issues with the rugs sliding even when the boat is heeling 20 degrees or more. We’ve used other non-skid methods in the past and none have ever worked very well or very long.

    They are not inexpensive but worth it to complete our summer home. We have a bunch of less expensive options we have used in the past that are our winter rugs when the boat is in storage.

  • Susie
    Posted at 14 August 2015 Reply

    Thanks for the tip on removing the mess from rubber mats will have to try as there is a large black rubber mat reaching the end of its life at the bottom of our companionway, useful as it stops wet feet slipping and catches any sea or rain that finds its way in but over the years has marked both the sole board and the catch it lies over. It has been on my list to replace ever since we bought the boat 15 years ago but I’ve never found anything heavy enough to stay put at sea.
    Elsewhere we use a non backed cotton bath mat as a rug in our cabin and serves its original purpose when hubby steps out of the shower. In the saloon we’ve a runner made of faux silk (cotton) which we roll up when sailing and a silk rug used as a table protector. All of which have lasted very well and can be washed if spills occur.

  • Donna Chiappini
    Posted at 20 August 2015 Reply

    Carolyn, my husband is an architect so he sometimes gets carpet samples. In a new office he was designing he got some carpet squares. The were the perfect size for our boat. We lined them up, each in a different direction, for a long runner and they come with a tape. They can easily be lifted and rinsed off outside. If one goes you can replace it. Great patterns to work with, thin and easy to put in place.

  • D and Don
    Posted at 15 September 2015 Reply

    I am looking at buying rugs for our boat for the first time, so this article is perfect timing for us. What I am finding, is that none of them are narrow enough; so it looks like we will have to go the cut one up or custom. 🙁

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 15 September 2015 Reply

      Take a look at the ones on Sailboat Interiors — she’s just started carrying rugs that are just 18″ wide (after I bought ours, of course — I like her designs better and they’re higher quality).

  • Edward Popka
    Posted at 20 August 2016 Reply

    Match the dog?

  • Debbie Bowen Crawford
    Posted at 20 August 2016 Reply

    We have a store in florida called five below and they sell yoga mats or nap pads for under $5 each and they are great colors. I am going to give them a shot for daily living.

  • Carol Zip
    Posted at 20 August 2016 Reply

    I have had the best luck for the main cabin of our catamaran with an area rug that does not have nonskid but I put a separate non skid pad under it. This nonskid does not disintegrate. I wash my rug on the dock with simple green and a scrub brush. Takes about 2 days to dry.

  • Mary Deyo
    Posted at 20 August 2016 Reply

    We’ve considered rugs but they just seem like dirt magnets. I can wipe the bare floor clean in a few minutes and we don’t have trapped water destroying the wood. Of course we have very little floor space, which makes a difference.

  • Lucy Wilcox Claiborne
    Posted at 20 August 2016 Reply

    Paz is such a cutie!!

  • Sharon
    Posted at 20 August 2016 Reply

    I have found some really great, nice looking indoor/outdoor rugs at Crate and Barrel. Each summer season, they have new designs in a variety of sizes. I buy good super non-skid rug pads for them that make them perfect for the boat. They are easy to wash with boat soap and a deck brush. A quick rinse and a few minutes drying time on the dock and they look like new. I’ve had mine for 5 years and I still like them.

  • ladonna thomas
    Posted at 21 August 2016 Reply

    I’ve used my hot knife to cut down some carpets that were synthetic.

  • Marie Raney
    Posted at 21 August 2016 Reply

    Chilewich rugs are now available on Amazon and are high quality non-skid hose-able rugs that come in some lucious colors and neutrals. They can also be cut to size, shape to fit the space.

  • celia
    Posted at 02 September 2016 Reply

    Has anyone considered installing snaps as a non-skid option? Seems a lot easier to me, but want to hear someone else’s thoughts.

  • Tina Heimann
    Posted at 11 July 2017 Reply

    We bought our inexpensive boat rug online at Wayfair, comes in many sizes….not nonskid therefore we put down a nonskid underlay which works perfect.

  • Pamela Douglas Webster
    Posted at 11 July 2017 Reply

    Wondering if you’ve ever spoken to anyone who has used Chilewich. I know folks who have used it on their RVs but wonder what it would do to my teak and holly sole.

  • Mark Sierakowski
    Posted at 04 January 2018 Reply

    Merran Sierakowski

  • Doug Purdy
    Posted at 04 January 2018 Reply

    Be cautious with nonslip rug mats, they contain a petroleum based adhesive that can damage varnish, especially recently cured varnish. Natural rubber mats are more expensive, but less likely to damage the floor.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 04 January 2018 Reply

      Thanks! We’ve never had a real problem, but that may be because our varnish is quite old.

    • Doug Purdy
      Posted at 04 January 2018 Reply

      Unfortunately I speak from experience.

  • Larry Blankenship
    Posted at 04 January 2018 Reply

    We bought 2 outdoor anti-slip mats fm HD to put on the swim platform for our dog to get off/on. I checked after a day or so and there was no marring/stains. Well …2 weeks latter after sitting in the sun and the mats left a dark shadow. Scrubbing for what seemed like hours finally removed the stain. NO RUBBER BACKED MATS ON FIBERGLASS IN FL SUMMER.

  • Patricia Jackson
    Posted at 04 January 2018 Reply

    Thanks for the info. I’m looking for rugs. I got some bath mats for head and galley, and am looking for something for the quarter berth to replace the ratty custom made one that came with the boat.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 04 January 2018 Reply

      The biggest problem seems to be finding the right size — or at least it’s been for me!

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